Social Web & our increasingly generic culture

I think today a lot of consumers talk about wanting to be unique and having their personal style, but in actual fact, almost everyone belongs to one of a few sub-groups of style. Since fashion went digital, everyone has access to the same information at the same time. And a lot is still very influenced by what goes on at the large luxury houses. Most shopping centres and main shopping streets have the same stores — many of them vertical retailers owned by multinational corporations who all have the same goal: to make money and expand. In order to do so, they have to look at what trends can be adapted for the mass market, which means the products are pretty much the same everywhere…..It’s all about the packaging and the advertising, [and] ultimately the brand experience. — Jörgen Andersson, co-global chief marketing officer at Uniqlo & former chief marketing officer at H&M in conversation with the Business of Fashion.

Jörgen Andersson’s comments encapsulate the truth about our connected planet and our increasingly generic culture. Two years ago, I observed the rise of new brands and the New New Globalization and noted that:

  • Planet is more connected because of the Internet and that allows brand messaging to spread much faster.
  • The consumers are more global.

Since then Twitter is bigger. Instagram is bigger. Pinterest is bigger and Facebook is bigger. We are taking photos of the world around us a sharing them with the planet. Today, the culture and cultural trends spread at light speed, replicated, reformed and are adopted at network speed. It has made standing out much harder and only very few can standout.

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months” Oscar Wilde once said. Make that every six weeks! I am not a fan of big chains like Uniqlo or H&M and the whole fast fashion movement that is thriving because we are a planet of constantly changing tastes, creating waste in our wake.

From the 1900s to 1950s, American consumers spent approximately 12-14% of their annual income on clothing. Today, we spend about 3%. But our closets are actually bigger. The average American house has doubled in size since the 1950s and closet space has increased, too, particularly with the advent of the walk-in closet in the 1980s. We likely have more than five times as many clothing items as we did in the first part of the 20th century. (Quartz)

After years of rampant consumerism, I have slowly embraced the idea of owning fewer and fewer things. I like the idea of fewer and better clothes. Clothes, are merely a manifestation of what’s on our minds. The more cluttered my mind got, the more cluttered my closet did. When I asked myself the question, why I was doing a certain things.

yvon

“Life should always be moving towards more simplicity rather than more complexity,” Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard once said. And it started with moving into a smaller apartment, with less closet space. It pushed me to reconsider how much I wanted to own and why, I wanted own something. Every month I try and get rid of few things, making space in my life for things that bring true joy — often from new experiences. (I make an exception for shoes, which are my one true addiction, a better and less expensive one compared to smoking.)

Responses

  1. revellingsjoy says:

    April 5th, 2014 at 11:04 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Crystal Harrison and commented:
    I buy all my clothes now from a thrift shop that benefits the local community hospital and is totally run by volunteers. I really have no idea what is in style anymore and I like it that way!

  2. Z (@zdne) says:

    April 3rd, 2014 at 11:56 pm Reply

    This kind of new age asceticism reminded me the Cult of Less – around 2009 a guy asked the question “Is it possible to own nothing?” and so he did: http://cultofless.com

  3. David Tokheim (@dtok) says:

    April 3rd, 2014 at 9:09 am Reply

    Thanks for the thought provoking post Om.

    Great questions raised. Are we programmed? How do we not be programmed? Are we just trying to fill a need?
    I also wonder what the root of it all is and like TedR, it makes me want to think out loud since it’s such an interesting topic.

    It’s complex.

    Perhaps people just are searching for a connection with others through attempting to creating, evolving or reinforcing their identity.

    “I just love your shoes!”
    “Hey – you from Chicago?”
    “Your hair is just soooooo cute.”

    How many times do you hear people complement each other’s clothes, establish a connection around where they were from or drop a quick complement as way of easing into the conversation?

    Many people don’t want to just fit in, but they don’t want to not fit in.

    I see this amplified as the father of three girls. My oldest daughter’s reaction last night to a discussion of missing a week long summer camp when “ALL OF (HER) FRIENDS WILL BE THERE #YOLO” just reminds me how hard it will be for her to not be part of the new lingo developed, songs learned, jokes told and shared experience. Isolation is scary, especially if you are nine.

    Commercial brands are a nice short cut for not only fitting in generically, but establishing a quick identity. No doubt, as Ted pointed out, a form of wasteful mental therapy. In some ways sadly, we are all guilty of such couch time. I look around while writing this in a SF Bay Area coffee shop and see this contrast between the trendy – ummm…I mean generic – Lululemon outfit or hipster grundge.

    Maybe it’s all driven by an effort to stay grounded, connected with others and happy.

    As a recovering marketer, I can’t help but look at some of the drivers articulated by Everett Rogers.
    Anyway, thanks for such a thought provoking post and keep up the great work!

  4. PXLated (@PXLated) says:

    April 3rd, 2014 at 8:57 am Reply

    About 10 years ago I started getting rid of STUFF – My goal was to get to the point where the things I cherished and really wanted to keep would fit in the smallest U-Haul trailer. I’ve managed to finally get there. It doesn’t mean I don’t have more stuff but it’s minimal and if I packed up and hit the road today, the small trailer would do just fine.
    Here’s a nice blues song about it all – “Too Much Stuff” – Delbert McClinton (One of the Fortunate Few)

  5. Jack Holt, Mattr (@jack_mattr) says:

    April 3rd, 2014 at 8:46 am Reply

    I love the quote that “..anything she owns has to have the potential of becoming a story.” My wife and I have fully embraced downsizing out of necessity – needing to sell the big house to fund a company – and finding delight in it. I hope this notion carries through to our 14 yo daughter and would be interested to hear from the group any learnings about teaching kids this ideal.

  6. Ian Andrew Bell says:

    April 3rd, 2014 at 8:00 am Reply

    “The things you own own you.”

    - Tyler Durden

  7. steve crandall (@tingilinde) says:

    April 3rd, 2014 at 3:44 am Reply

    In American society the wisdom of simplicity of our interactions with ‘stuff’ tends to come with age, experience and self confidence. Most people never get there ..

    A friend who has very few items in her closet is known for her fashionable presence and has appeared in street fashion blogs. Most of her pieces were chosen for their construction, ability to be tailored to her unusual frame and relative timelessness. Some of her pieces are vintage that were still in good shape and a few are the result of conspirings between her and a seamstress friend. Few are off the shelf. All require deliberate thought. She says anything she owns has to have the potential of becoming a story – a notion I rather like. When a piece no longer makes sense to have a place in her closet she writes a note of its story and takes it to a vintage store

    ‘Over-Dressed’ by Elizabeth Cline is a nice introduction to the consumerization of fashion and its costs. It won’t win literary awards, but I found it a fascinating read and went through it in a sitting.

    I’ve been asking myself what is important for about twenty years now. My life is still much more cluttered than it should be, but personal consumption of needless and poorly built things has dropped dramatically. I’m much happier investing in experiences, people and questions.

    1. Om Malik says:

      April 3rd, 2014 at 7:49 am Reply

      Steve

      I did indeed read Ms. Cline’s book and in was eye opening. I think as days go by, I am resisting any urges to spend time on things that don’t matter. Perhaps it is a realization that it is the only valuable thing I have and there is not more of it.

  8. Ted Rheingold (@tedr) says:

    April 2nd, 2014 at 7:20 pm Reply

    Om, this is a very meaningful post. It makes me want to say things I can’t organize into a coherent message so please allow me to simply think out loud here.

    I think for the last century or forever there has been little desire to stand out. Whether due to lack of options or global ubiquity, most people aren’t that interested in expressing an inner sentiment on their outside.

    Your stats on clothing spend as % of total spending are fascinating. But I can’t help but think about how in the 1900-1950 how small closets were. People had a couple sets of clothing they wore every week. (Perhaps they were relatively more expensive). Now most people have big closets filled with tons of clothing items, many of which rarely get worn as people still often wear the same sets of clothing every couple of weeks.

    Starting about 5 years ago I realized that I had certain items of clothing and hear for 10, 15, 20 years. And that each time I bought a new sturdy item, I should expect that I’ll still have it for 10+ years. I’ve been much pickier about what I buy because, like you, I foresee it’ll only unnesc stuff a closet. The upside is that I’m much more comfortable spending 2x, 3x, 4x more for something that I know is made right and will not only last for 10+ years, but will also be just as purposeful, efficient and stylish because a thing I hate is throwing or letting dust gather on something that I’m compelled to replace w/ something slightly better.

    I’ve also come to feel much consumerism in American is a replacement for love and communication. An incredibly wasteful form of mental therapy.

    I wish everyone in America bought items to last and used them until they were unusable. We’d all be walking better on well made shoes. We’d all have an emotional attachment to each item in our closet that evoked meaning each time it was put on. We’d all need less space, meaning more room for others.

    And we’d all be happier. Like you ;)

    1. Om Malik says:

      April 3rd, 2014 at 7:52 am Reply

      Ted

      Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion. I do indeed spend a lot more and want things that will last this life time. It is ironic, that most people don’t do the math — a $25 shirt lasts only a few months and a well made shirt that might cost six times as much lasts years. I think the biggest decision one needs to make: eschew the brands and look for quality. I think the conversation about quality is important as we don’t have enough of that and an average consumer doesn’t know much about it.

  9. Steven Chayer says:

    April 2nd, 2014 at 3:02 pm Reply

    Now, after reading this, I think I should want to add to my death bed wishes that everything I own, I own because it brought me joy. The very thought of trying to accomplish this goal brings me joy. I love it.

    1. Om Malik says:

      April 3rd, 2014 at 7:53 am Reply

      Steven

      I am actually trying to get to that point. Much harder than one thinks :-)

  10. Jason Randell says:

    April 2nd, 2014 at 2:29 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on What's Free and commented:
    Love the YC quote at the end… #Patgonia

  11. @OmarSayyed says:

    April 2nd, 2014 at 1:32 pm Reply

    I’ve loved Yvon Chouinard’s philosophy towards business practices and his sense of morality towards humanity sense I was first introduced to his views while at LMU. He came to speak at our business school while I was in college. We can all learn a little from him and the way he manufactures his products, the way he treats his employees and how he builds relationship with his vendors. Thanks for the post.

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